This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A state grant is set get some help from a state grant that will help with infrastructure and the fight against child abuse. Governor Bill Haslam announced $2.1 million in block grant funding going to Huntingdon, McKenzie and Trezevant. Out of that money, $300,000 is set to be used to construct a 4,000 square foot Carl Perkins Child Advocacy Center to serve Carroll, Benton and Henry Counties. The facility will provide therapy, counseling services, parenting classes and a food bank. A half million dollars each will go to Huntingdon and McKenzie to help repair their sewer systems.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday the appointment of David Jones as a director on the newly reconfigured Tennessee Regulatory Authority. Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) jointly appointed Jones, who joins fellow TRA directors James Allison, Kenneth Hill, Herbert Hilliard and Sara Kyle. “It is our job to make state government as accountable and responsive to Tennesseans as possible,” Haslam said in a release.
Amazon.com Inc. plans to hire more than 50,000 seasonal employees this year at fulfillment centers across the U.S., Reuters reports. The online retail giant also said it expects “thousands” of the temporary hires to stay on in full-time positions following the holiday rush. The 50,000 figure is up slightly from its 2011 hires, although Amazon did not specify how many people it hired during last year’s Christmas season. Amazon is the latest big retailer to divulge its holiday hiring plans.
Jordan Akins of Chattanooga had just gotten hired Tuesday for seasonal work at the Amazon distribution center and was looking forward to starting his job in early November. “It’s the largest Internet retail company,” he said. “I thought I’d check it out.” At Amazon’s four Tennessee fulfillment centers, two in the Chattanooga area, the company plans to hire “thousands” of workers for the busy Christmas holiday season, the retailer said. The seasonal hires in the state are part of 50,000 temporary jobs that the Seattle-based business plans to employ for the holidays nationwide.
Internet retailer Amazon said today it plans to hire thousands of workers for its four Tennessee distribution centers for the holidays, including staffing up its Chattanooga and Charleston, Tenn., facilities. The seasonal hires in the state are part of 50,000 that the Seattle-based retailer plans to employ for the Christmas holidays nationwide. “Temporary associates play a critical role in meeting increased customer demand during the holiday season, and we expect thousands of temporary associates will stay on in full-time positions,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s vice president of Global Customer Fulfillment, in a statement.
Meningitis victims sue as probe continues A third fungus — black mold most commonly found on outdoor plants — is likely part of the national meningitis outbreak linked to a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy that supplied epidural steroids and other drugs. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed one Cladosporium infection, and CDC Medical Epidemiologist Tom Chiller linked it to the outbreak. He shared the news in a conference call with doctors and pharmacists nationwide.
As many as 75 medical facilities in Tennessee may have used contaminated drugs from a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. The Food and Drug Administration has now expanded the risk to injectable drugs used in eye and heart surgeries. So far, the 59 fungal meningitis cases in the state are linked to epidural steroid injections at three pain clinics, which include an outpatient facility at St. Thomas Hospital. The Tennessee Department of Health is not yet naming names of new facilities but says as many as 75 may have received tainted drugs from the New England Compounding Center.
The Nashville pain-management clinic at the center of the local fungal meningitis outbreak in recent weeks has been flooded with thousands of phone calls from worried patients, an executive with the center said Tuesday. Workers at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center identified and informed patients who might have gotten contaminated injections, said Scott Butler, an administrator for the clinic. The center was one of three pain-management clinics in Tennessee that received contaminated steroid injections from the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass.
New details emerged Tuesday about the life-threatening injuries and deaths of Tennessee children who were brought to the attention of the Department of Children’s Services between 2009 and June 2012. Nearly one-third of the 151 children who died in those 3½ years were victims of abuse or neglect, according to data provided by the agency on Tuesday. Just over half of the children who suffered “near-fatalities” — life-threatening injuries such as bone fractures, drug exposure, gunshot wounds, attempted suicides, near drownings — were abused or neglected, according to DCS data.
State health officials have suspended the licenses of two Franklin physicians and a Nashville doctor related to substance abuse and record-keeping violations. The state Board of Medical Examiners, which oversees the awarding of physicians’ licenses, has stripped Franklin Family Health Care physician Benjamin F. Booker III of his medical license for not less than two years after a recent drug-related criminal conviction. A family practice doctor with a specialty in obstetrics and gynecology, Booker pleaded guilty in June in Williamson County court to four charges of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance — specifically the narcotic painkiller oxycodone.
One Kingsport doctor has been disciplined for multiple unreported DUI convictions, while another has been disciplined for a single DUI arrest and conviction in which he identified himself as a doctor and reportedly informed the arresting officer he would refuse to render medical aid to him if he ever needed it. The Tennessee Department of Health’s latest disciplinary action report, issued late Monday, states Stephen William Fry, M.D., Kingsport, and Kiran Patibandla, M.D., Kingsport, each have been disciplined for “unprofessional, dishonorable or unethical conduct.”
Sorry, South Knoxville, but it appears an early completion of the $24.7 million makeover of the Henley Bridge is off the table. Construction contractor Britton Bridge LLC, which launched the renovation and widening of the bridge Jan. 3, 2011, had a shot at a million-dollar bonus if the structure was reopened to traffic ahead of schedule in December. The bonus decreased in $250,000 increments until May 15, 2013, when the final $250,000 could be claimed. According to Tennessee Department of Transportation project supervisor Kristin Qualls, it appears the project won’t be finished before the June 30, 2013, deadline.
A Baxter woman has been arrested for allegedly trying to use her sister’s TennCare benefits to obtain dental services. The arrest of Miranda Michelle Lack, 24, was announced yesterday by the state Office of Inspector General, which conducted the investigation that led to the arrest. Lack is charged with fraud and identity theft in the case. She was arrested October 15 by Special Agent John Morgan of the Inspector General’s office. She was booked into the Putnam County jail, where her total bond was set at $20,000.
Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. has raised a record $81 million in the first quarter. That’s a 14 percent increase over the same period last fiscal year, which set the previous record with $71 million. Total lottery funding for education-related programs in Tennessee exceeds $2.47 billion since the lottery’s inception in 2004. According to data from the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp., lottery money has provided more than 600,000 scholarships and grants to in-state educational institutions during that time.
Early voting starts Wednesday for the Nov. 6 presidential election. Tennessee election officials are reminding voters to adhere to a new state law and have government-issued photo identification when they arrive at the polls. Individuals who don’t have a proper ID can vote provisionally. The early voting period ends Nov. 1. Starting this election, Tennessee voters will be able to see the party affiliations of candidates listed on the ballot after a federal appeals court in August cleared the way for the change.
Voters itching to officially weigh in on the November election can begin casting ballots Wednesday, a day before the Tennessee Court of Appeals is set to hear arguments challenging what IDs people need to vote. The appellate court is set to hear arguments Thursday challenging the state’s voter ID law that dictates people casting ballots must show a government-issued picture ID. Unless the court overturns the law, identification needed to vote includes a current or expired driver’s license, passport, military ID, handgun carry permit, and any other state or federal government-issued identification with a photo on it, except college ID cards.
Every 30 seconds or so, the ringing phones at the Hamilton County Election Commission interrupted elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan Tuesday as she tried to explain how swamped her office is on the eve of early voting. “Can you hear those phones?” she asked. “It’s been like that for the past two days, just one after the other. So it’s going to be busy. Very busy.” Early voting starts today and ends Nov. 1. Mullis-Morgan’s office has readied itself for what is expected to be a massive early-voter turnout after the number of voter registrations reached a record high this election cycle.
Jennifer Martin wondered why she hadn’t received her absentee ballot to vote in the Nov. 6 elections, so on a visit home to Memphis last week, she made a few inquiries. Martin, whose maiden name is Edwards, learned that she was listed under the name “Jennifer Marshall” in the Shelby County Election Commission database. She was supposedly issued a new ballot under the correct name, but she checked online Tuesday and discovered that her name was still incorrectly listed. She’s hoping the problems will be sorted out and she’ll receive her absentee ballot in time to cast a vote.
Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey walked into the storefront at the Carrefour shopping center earlier this month and liked what he saw of the local effort for the Romney-Ryan presidential ticket. “This place looks like a Gap,” Kelsey said of the layout with tables of different kinds of Romney-Ryan branded T-shirts and neatly stacked yard signs In the backroom, a team of 10 volunteers worked a phone bank, calling voters in Iowa. Farther west on Poplar Avenue, the Democratic Party Resource Center isn’t a storefront operation.
Tennessee’s first-year law requiring valid photo identification to vote faces its biggest test as early voting for the Nov. 6 general election begins today. Acceptable photo IDs include a Tennessee driver’s license, U.S. passport, Department of Safety photo ID, U.S. military photo ID, federal government photo ID, or a gun permit card with a photo, according to the law. A college-issued photo ID will not be accepted. The city of Memphis and two Memphis residents are challenging the law by claiming it imposes “an undue burden” on the right to vote.
Early voting for the Nov. 6 general election, including the presidential race, begins Wednesday and continues through Nov. 1 in the basement of the county courthouse. Hours are 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Thursday; 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Friday; and 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday. State-issued or federal-issued photo ID is required, such as a driver’s license. A college student ID does not qualify. The county courthouse is the only location for early voting in Bedford County, including for the Wartrace and Normandy town elections.
Voters will face new ID requirements and changed legislative districts when they begin voting early on Wednesday. Registered voters can begin voting at the Montgomery County Election Commission’s Pageant Lane office at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Early voting will continue between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays until Nov. 1. Early voting is closed on Sundays, and Nov. 6 is the official election day. There are 102,023 registered voters in Montgomery County, according to Vickie Koelman, administrator of elections for the county.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has appointed Brian Noland, president of East Tennessee State University, and Greg Nelson, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Eastman Chemical Co., to the board of directors of the Tennessee Technology Development Corp. The Tennessee Technology Development Corp. is a nonprofit organization created by the state Legislature to attract new science and technology businesses to Tennessee and expand those already here.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, Tuesday announced the appointments of Brian Noland, president of East Tennessee State University, and Greg Nelson, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Eastman Chemical Co., to the board of directors of the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation. The TTDC is currently being rebranded as Launch Tennessee. “Our knowledge-based economy changes at lightning-fast speed. It is important to have talented, capable individuals to keep Tennessee abreast of the new economy and expand the state’s footprint in high-growth sectors,” Ramsey said.
Three Republicans seeking two-year terms to represent Rutherford County in the Tennessee General Assembly raised far more than their Democratic challengers, state records show. Incumbent Republican state Rep. Rick Womick took in $17,100 in third-quarter fundraising turned in by Oct. 10 just prior to today’s start of early voting for the Nov. 6 presidential election, according to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. Womick’s fundraising far outpaced the $1,280 that Democratic nominee Luke Dickerson took in for their Nov. 6 election to represent the 34th District.
The task ahead of state Rep. David Shepard does not look easy: How do you win an election when your party’s standard-bearer could lose as much as 60 percent of the vote in the district you’re trying to win? Shepard, a Democrat from Dickson, says the answer is to convince voters that he is a bipartisan lawmaker with a strong record on constituent services. “People know I’m available, accessible, that I listen to people,” said the 65-year-old pharmacy owner. “I think people generally like me.”
An aide to Sen. Ophelia Ford was fired Tuesday in the wake of a TNReport story that showed him apparently conducting political work while collecting his state paycheck. “As of today, Derek Hummel’s employment with the Tennessee General Assembly has been terminated,” Office of Legislative Administration official Tammy Rather told TNReport via email. Hummel had been executive secretary for Ford, D-Memphis, since April, drawing a $30,468 annual salary. He’s also been working for the Phillip North campaign, a Democrat locked in a tight race against Republican Steve Dickerson for a Davidson County state Senate seat.
Sophia Crawford will be the new Davidson County Juvenile Court judge after winning the Metro Council’s approval Tuesday night. Crawford, who currently serves as a Judicial Court magistrate, initially received 18 votes, beating magistrates Carlton Lewis and Sheila Calloway, who received 11 and nine votes respectively. In a run-off, Crawford defeated Lewis by a vote of 25 to 13. Her victory comes despite the fact that it was Calloway who received the most recommendations in a survey of 560 members of the Nashville Bar Association.
Rhea County commissioners Tuesday spent about $41,000 from their fund balance, more than 10 percent of the funds available, and Budget Committee members renewed their call to stop spending. Finance Director Bill Graham said most of the unbudgeted expenditures were to cover expenditures completed before the 2012-13 budget was adopted in September. “When you have a continuing budget, you give department heads authority to spend up to what they had last year,” he said.
The Memphis City Council on Tuesday approved a nondiscrimination ordinance that includes workplace protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, ending a debate that began in 2010. “City of Memphis employees will go to bed tonight and wake up in the morning to hear the news that their hard work will be respected and their ability to contribute to their community will be preserved,” said Jonathan Cole, vice president of the Tennessee Equality Project, one of the backers of the legislation.
Memphis City Council members approved on third and final reading an ordinance Tuesday, Oct. 16, that forbids the city from discriminating in hiring, firing or promotion based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The ordinance was amended before the final vote Tuesday to include gender identity and a definition that includes transgendered individuals. Council attorney Allan Wade continued to raise concerns that the ordinance may be a city charter amendment requiring a referendum and that the council may be overstepping its authority in what is a policy matter.
Memphis City Council members on Tuesday questioned whether the countywide sales-tax increase on November’s ballot will be used for prekindergarten education, as its supporters have promised. If approved by voters on Nov. 6, the half-cent increase to the sales-tax rate would generate a projected $61 million, including about $30 million for public education. The city of Memphis would get about $23 million, and the remainder would go to suburban municipalities.
Red-light cameras have been removed from four intersections in Jackson as the city transitions to a new contractor for its red-light camera program. Camera equipment has been taken down on the U.S. 45 Bypass at Oil Well Road and Channing Way and on North Highland Avenue at Old Hickory Boulevard and Carriage House Drive. Mayor Jerry Gist said red-light cameras in Jackson were operated by ATS. He said the city’s contract with the company has expired. Gist said ATS is in the process of removing its camera equipment.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is receiving a decoration conferred by Japanese Emperor Akihito in recognition of his dedication to Japan-U.S. relations. Alexander will receive the “Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star” Wednesday evening from Motohiko Kato, the consul general of Japan in Nashville. While Alexander was Tennessee governor and economic competition between the U.S. and Japan was tense in the early 1980s, he led numerous trade missions to Japan. The recruitment resulted in Nissan building the first Japanese auto assembly plant in the U.S. at Smyrna.
Legislation has fervent fans and opponents About the only kind of legislation first-term members of Congress usually pass is the uneventful kind, like those naming or renaming post offices back in their districts. But Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump, Tenn., first elected in 2010, just happened to pass one of the most significant bills relating to business development in the 112th Congress. The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, signed into law April 5, makes it easier for smaller, privately held firms to tap public capital markets through initial public offerings — IPOs.
The Tennessee Conservative Union is exploring whether to call for Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ resignation following revelations that the congressman once urged a former patient with whom he’d had a relationship to have an abortion. The group’s chairman, Lloyd Daugherty, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press for Tuesday’s editions that he has been consulting with other Republican-leaning groups to build a coalition supporting the ouster of DesJarlais. “We’re very upset that he’s broken his medical creed and the trust of the citizens of his district,” Daugherty said.
Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais held a better than 7-to-1 cash advantage over Democratic challenger Eric Stewart as of Sept. 30 and is using it to dominate the television airwaves in their 4th Congressional District contest. DesJarlais’ campaign declared Tuesday that Stewart is “running on fumes” with campaign manager Brandon Lewis saying, “Eric Stewart is a strong supporter of Barack Obama, a proponent of Obamacare and believes in the liberal borrow and spend policies that have exploded our national debt and ruined our economy.”
The U.S. Postal Service in September hit its $15 billion borrowing limit from the U.S. Treasury for the first time in its history, leaving the agency with only the revenue it takes in from selling stamps, shipping and other services to cover its operating costs. The Postal Service has added $2.4 billion to its debt since June 30, pushing the agency to its borrowing cap, said Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer. “Being at the limit is a serious situation because our limited liquidity does not give us operating flexibility,” he said.
Two targets ‘fail’ prematurely Experiments at the Spallation Neutron Source have been put on hold while lab officials try to understand what’s going wrong in the target facility, where — during normal operations — zillions of neutrons are produced every second and distributed to research instruments for uniquely tailored studies of materials. SNS operations were shut down after sensor data for the second time in a month indicated that the vessel holding the mercury target was on the verge of failure.
American Airlines has issued layoff notices to nearly 100 employees in Memphis and Nashville, WPLN 90.3 FM reports. The move comes amid the company’s restructuring. Though warnings were issued to 100 Tennessee employees, far fewer will actually be cut, according to a company spokesperson. In Nashville, for instance, 59 employees were warned of layoffs, though only half of those positions are expected to be cut. Cuts will be made through attrition and buyouts, according to a spokesperson.
Congressman Scott DesJarlais, the self-declared pro-life/family-values Republican who is seeking re-election in District 4, doesn’t deny the tape-recorded revelation that he pressured a lover to get an abortion, ostensibly to help him save his marriage. Still, he seems to have a hard time accepting the fact that he should resign his seat and quit his campaign because of his hypocrisy. That’s not unusual for a stereotypical Washington charlatan. The Capitol has seen a long bipartisan string of playboys who tried, and ultimately failed, to stay in office amid scandal.
The Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) board this afternoon is scheduled to vote on a $57.8 million tax break, spread over 15 years, in conjunction with Nike’s plans for a major expansion. These types of tax breaks have drawn their share of criticism over the years locally and across the country. One of the major concerns is that the tax breaks deprive cities and counties of badly needed tax dollars, especially in times of economic slowdowns. In that context, $57.8 million is indeed a lot of money. It is the EDGE board’s call, of course, but in Nike’s case, it appears to be a prudent trade-off for a major economic development initiative.
You may have heard the same things I have: negative comments about a Metro Nashville public school. Typically, the speakers do not have children at the school, but “have heard” about it. As a Metro Board of Education member and the mother of successful graduates, I cringe at the misinformation. At my children’s alma mater, McGavock High School, Executive Principal Robbin Wall is the 2012 High School Principal of the Year. He deserves the honor. McGavock High earned the highest score for growth in student achievement on Tennessee’s assessment system. Its graduation rate and student achievement are climbing, while its music programs continue to earn awards and its athletic teams make regular playoff appearances.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has adopted a wait-and-see attitude regarding security improvements at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in the wake of the July 28 security breach. Three Plowshares protesters entered the national security installation during the predawn hours, cut through multiple security fences and ultimately reached the Oak Ridge plant’s uranium storage facility, where they spray-painted peace messages, hammered a corner of the building and splashed the site with human blood. The unprecedented intrusion, which revealed multiple weaknesses in the plant’s security, attracted international attention. Two congressional hearings have since been held, and at least a dozen investigations are ongoing.